What’s the difference between an intimate wedding and an elopement?  

If you’re recently engaged and diving into the world of wedding planning, you’re probably seeing a lot of information about intimate weddings as well as elopements since they are the “it” thing this year. 

But intimate wedding vs elopement – what exactly is the definition? What’s the difference between them? How do they compare to a full day wedding, and how does it work regarding photography? At Brighton Savoy, we have compiled a list of the Best Photobooth Hires in Melbourne to help you choose who captures your magical day.

This post will look at the difference between the two, the advantages of each, and how they both are a perfect choice for you.

What Is the Definition of an Elopement?

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The true definition of elopement is when a couple runs off secretly to get married.  

Some people will “elope” and have their mom, dad, brothers and sisters with them, but that’s about it.  

Some couples use their photographer as the witness for the marriage register and have no one else there.  

Elopements are typically last minute; while there’s no rule of thumb, my personal opinion is 1 or 2 months. 

Again, the true definition is to “run off and get married”, which inherently implies a minimal amount of notice and planning. Most elopements happen during the week (Monday through Thursday).  

Most elopements focus not on the ceremony (only a few minutes long), but a beautifully creative portrait session after the couple and the photographer create unique images in excellent locations.

In the strictest definition, an elopement is when a couple marries in secret. 

Traditionally, it is just the couple (i.e. no family or friends present), tends to be a spur-of-the-moment decision, and more ceremony-focused rather than incorporating the other details of a larger wedding like seating arrangements at the reception or a cocktail hour. 

A couple can elope in their hometown or to a dream destination, have a spiritual or legal ceremony, and can be as fancy or casual as they like!

The reasons a couple may want to elope are varied. For some, being in the military may require speeding up a wedding day because of deployment. 

These couples may elect to elope before deployment and plan a more significant, detailed celebration later. 

For others, the wedding planning process is fraught with too many complications — family interference, drama, negativity, feeling overwhelmed — and the couple feels the focus of their wedding day is going in a different direction than they wanted.

They would choose to elope somewhere to take control of their wedding day and refocus it back to what is essential for them. 

For others, having a big lavish wedding isn’t something they are into; they always envisioned something very intimate, just the two of them, in an incredible location for their dream wedding day.

What Is the Definition of an Intimate Wedding?

An intimate wedding is just a “normal” wedding day with a smaller guest list.  

Instead of the giant banquet hall and generic chicken + potatoes meal, you opt for a smaller location and a guest list of maybe one or two-dozen people.  

Intimate weddings aren’t necessarily smaller budget weddings; a lot of the time, a bride or groom will splurge more on their guests with intimate weddings because instead of using a $20,000 wedding budget to create an event for 120 people, they can use the same amount and give 20 people a fantastic experience.  

Intimate weddings are often very relaxed and, to a certain extent, non-traditional.  

Sometimes the bride and groom will get ready in the same house and have their first look casually in the hallway. Sometimes there isn’t even formal seating for dinner.  

While there is a focus on beautiful portraits, there’s also a focus on photojournalistic images; a storytelling approach to the day to capture all the intimate moments between the few guests present.

Intimate weddings are weddings with a small guest list. The couple will invite up to around 25 people.

There will be a ceremony followed by a reception, with the same schedule and details of a larger wedding but to suit a smaller guest list. 

There are invitations and logistics to plan, a ceremony attended by the guests, a reception that follows, and the etiquette that goes along with a traditional larger wedding applies.

Couples who choose to host an intimate wedding instead of a larger one are usually financially motivated; they want to focus on the “quality, not the quantity” of their wedding day. 

Some couples have their heart set on a particular location for their wedding day that cannot accommodate a larger party. 

Others want to keep the guest list very small, so they can spend their wedding day enjoying it with their closest family and friends rather than entertaining a massive group of people.

Eloping Vs Wedding: the Differences


This is one of the most significant contrasts between a traditional wedding and an elopement ceremony. 

Most traditional weddings have a guest list with 50 to 200+ guests, while an elopement is 20 or less. A micro wedding is 20-50 guests.

When you have a wedding with more than 20 guests, you need to have some structural things in place. 

It requires having more schedule for your day and having things in places like a venue that can hold that many people, transportation, and entertainment for your guests. 

An elopement has 20 or fewer guests or no guests at all. This essentially means you can do whatever you want. 

If you only have four guests, you could get married in a beautiful mountain meadow with your guests standing around you. You won’t need chairs or any unique venues. It’s much more free-flowing. 

While both have their advantages, ultimately, choosing how many guests you’d like to celebrate with you on your big day will help shape whether you’re looking at an elopement, an intimate ceremony, or a more traditional wedding.

Planning Time

Traditional weddings generally involve more planning time than an elopement, and having a higher guest count is significant. 

Creating seating charts and schedules, organising dinner for a crowd of people, and selecting the right entertainment are all things that couples typically oversee in a traditional wedding but may appear on a much smaller scale for an elopement — or not even appear at all. 

An elopement can be planned in a matter of days — sometimes in a matter of hours. 

Depending on your date, venue choice, and guest count, you could spend less than 24 hours planning your elopement. 

You could also go all out and spend a whole year planning a destination elopement. It’s all up to you.


An elopement can happen almost anywhere you can think of — for the most part. Exquisite mountain tops, quaint local parks, historic landmarks, and gorgeous beaches are just a handful of areas where elopement occurs. 

You can choose a meaningful place for you and your partner, like where you had your first date or a memorable vacation you took.

You could also plan to go somewhere completely new and incorporate a sense of discovery into your elopement day. 

Whether you want a Hawaiian beach ceremony or a romantic exchange of vows with the Chicago skyline behind you, your options open up quite a bit when you’re getting married without guests. 

Traditional weddings need more structure. It would help if you had chairs for guests, something to keep them entertained, and decor for the venue. 

Speaking of venues, your options are generally more limited to places that can handle the ceremony’s needs. Looking for a Wedding Photo Location? Look no further. Brighton Savoy has compiled an ultimate list of wedding photo locations to help you choose. 

You will also likely have a reception, so you have to choose a venue that can handle both events.


The other big difference between a traditional wedding and an elopement is the price. Weddings can be crazy expensive — the average wedding costs over $33k! Generally, you can expect to pay $150 to $200 per person. 

That includes the venue, decor, food, drinks, and entertainment. 

If you have always dreamed of having a big party with all your favourite people, of celebrating you and your partner’s love, a wedding is probably the right choice for you. 

That is what you are paying for, after all — to celebrate with your loved ones. 

Elopement ceremonies, on the other hand, are typically less expensive. The average ceremony costs $900. This is because you have fewer people and structures to deal with. 

That does not mean that you are getting less from your celebration. On the contrary, elopements can be profoundly personal and breathtakingly beautiful — not to mention you can party afterwards!


Larger venues for weddings typically have rules. Sometimes the same is valid with vendors. 

These can be things like limits on how late you can play music, what day of the week you can get married, what time of the day certain events need to occur. 

It’s not a bad thing, but if you don’t want to be limited with what you can do with your day, eloping is probably a better choice for you. 

When you elope, you can pretty much do whatever you want. 

So long as you aren’t damaging a natural area or trespassing, you can go wherever, whenever you want. 

This allows you to make things personal. So whether you go to a particular place or work individual elements into your elopement, you have the freedom to customise your ceremony.

Photographic Coverage

Couples often need 2 or 3 hours of coverage for an elopement; that’s it. After that, it’s a photograph of the ceremony and a beautiful portrait session.  

There’s rarely any getting ready images and never any cocktail hour coverage or reception coverage because elopements don’t have those things. Period. 


The photographer’s job will be the 2 or 3 hours of work on the day to capture the ceremony and portrait session and provide several images reflective of how many hours they photographed.

Intimate weddings, photographically, are the same as full-day “traditional” weddings.  

Couples almost always want getting ready coverage, the ceremony, formal photos with family members, and the team and range of their reception.  

A photographer can still spend 8, 10 or 12 hours photographing an intimate wedding day.

A photographer’s job, and thus the cost of their services, is not reflective of how many guests are present.  

So intimate wedding vs elopement means you’re still going to pay the same hourly rate for the most part.  

An hour of a photographer’s time is an hour of a photographer’s time – whether they photograph two people, 20 people or 200 people.  

They still process several photographs reflective of the number of hours they were shooting for.  

Suppose a photographer shoots a 12-hour intimate wedding and a 12 hour “traditional” banquet hall wedding. In that case, the clients will likely get similar images because both jobs are the same amount of work for a photographer.

Eloping Vs Wedding: the Similarities

Planning Ahead

Both traditional weddings and elopement ceremonies call for some same essential planning ahead. 

Both ceremonies require an officiant to marry you and a legally binding marriage license. 

We have some resources about getting a marriage license on our blog, but you can call up the local county clerk for more details specific to your location.

Most elopements take a few weeks to a few months to plan but can be even faster than that. Most traditional weddings will need at least a few months to plan, if not a year or more.

Family and Friends

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No matter which ceremony you choose, the people closest to you will want to be a part of it. 

They can be a physical part of your day, such as attending your wedding or reception, or they can celebrate more remotely, depending on you and your partner’s preferences. 

You can send them personalised elopement announcements or ask for their input on ceremony or honeymoon locations. 

Whether you’re having a hundred guests or are doing something privately, you can always find a place in both types of ceremonies for your loved ones. 

While a traditional wedding is more straightforward when including your family and friends, if you choose to elope, you can always host a celebration back home with those close to you. 

Get everyone together to share a video of your wedding day or even FaceTime those you love as you recite your vows.


The most significant and most crucial parallel between weddings and elopements is the love you share with your partner. 

Whether you want to be surrounded by every person you love in your life in an elaborate ceremony or be there with you and your partner, your wedding is about how you want to commemorate your day. 

And whatever way you want to express your love on that day is going to be perfect for you.

The Advantages

As with everything, there are pros and cons, but with elopements and intimate weddings, there are some specific advantages you may want to consider when deciding what kind of wedding day best suits you.


When you elope, you have a more fluid schedule for your day. 

This enables you to adjust your timeline a bit throughout the day to spend more time on what you’re enjoying at the moment and could let you move on faster to the next thing when you’re ready. 

In particular, during the getting ready portion of your wedding day or time before your ceremony, many couples who choose to elope to a destination report enjoying a leisurely time getting ready, having the focus solely on themselves for hair and makeup without being distracted by others in the room, having a sense of peace and calm about them that lets them focus on what they’re about to do. 

Some couples even find time to enjoy a round of golf, a drive in the country, even a workout to get any jitters out because they can spend the time on themselves they’d otherwise be spending entertaining friends or family.

Perhaps the most significant advantage for elopements is in pictures. 

Having just the two of you lets you explore your ceremony location, often gives you time for extended portrait shots, even boudoir shoots, and less pressure to take pictures quickly and move on.  

Since you don’t have a dinner reception and band starting at a set time waiting for you, you have this incredible flexibility to work with your photographer as long as you like to get lots of stunning photographs of the two of you in your dream locale.

If having a cake and proper dinner, even entertainment is something you’re afraid you’d miss if you elope, have no fear. 

Plenty of couples who’ve eloped enjoyed a miniature size wedding cake, beautifully designed and decorated just like its larger counterpart and just as delicious. 

Couples who elope often enjoy a very romantic candlelit dinner specially prepared for them by award-winning chefs in incredible venues, from cozy fireplaces at the castle to upscale restaurants in the city. 

If music and dancing is something you’re afraid you’d miss out on, especially in Australia, it can very easily be arranged. 

Plenty of venues and restaurants have the quintessential experience that would work perfectly for your post-wedding celebration. 

And good chance the locals will toast you both well into the morning hours for a very memorable wedding day!

Intimate Weddings.  

Although involving more cost than an elopement, an intimate wedding is the absolute best decision for the right couple. 

This is for the couple with a tight-knit group of friends or family whom they adore that they want to share an incredible and memorable day with. 

It’s very conducive to a destination wedding in particular, as you can build in bonding time together with sight-seeing, adventures, activities and more leading up to your wedding. 

That build-up can create a lot of positive energy and excitement that will carry over to your wedding day to make it even more memorable and unique.

For intimate weddings, expect to do everything a larger wedding would have, but you have the advantage of personalisation and details. 

Little things like customised menus that go beyond the “chicken or fish” choices larger weddings usually require craft cocktails and top-shelf decisions instead of the select bar menus, meaningful, personalised gifts instead of the standard votive candle holder. 

An intimate wedding allows you to bring your guests closer to the ceremony itself: invite them to participate in the ceremony by doing readings, lighting candles, or holding particular objects. 

If you’re doing flower crowns, make that part of the day’s activities by inviting your friends to custom-design their own! 

Let the boys bond together by treating them all to a classic shave morning of the wedding and an Irish coffee. 

The options are endless as it’s easier to coordinate a smaller group of people to experience your wedding day with you.

Having a smaller guest list means you can splurge more on the quality of the details. 

Opting for an intimate wedding allows many brides flexibility in the budget to get their dream dress, jewellery, decorate the ceremony space more whimsically, execute that Pinterest-worthy table setting to perfection, and more. 

Many couples would rather spend the money having what they want and celebrating with the people that matter most to them rather than covering the cost for a huge wedding and cutting back on details.

The rule with intimate weddings is going for the details! So really take advantage of personalising here and creating a custom experience that extends beyond just the wedding itself.

Things to Keep in Mind

From a logistical standpoint, there are some factors you may want to consider when deciding which wedding day is suitable for you. 

Photographers, for example, will be hard-pressed to block out an entire Saturday to shoot an elopement; they are giving up a prime day to shoot a larger wedding which will mean more hours and thus more money. 

If you’re planning an elopement, consider doing it on a weekday so you can secure your dream photographer without issue. 

Intimate weddings are treated like their larger counterparts so that they will be organised and treated similarly by your vendors, for the most part, photographers included. 

Because of the smaller guest list, things like “family portrait” shots will go much faster, giving you more time to take candid photos or detailed pictures of your wedding day. 

Another reason to go for the details on this style of wedding!

Be careful of approaching vendors with “elopement coverage” or asking for the “elopement style packages”, thinking that they will be more affordable for your intimate wedding. 

The reality is elopement packages are planned and priced out a sure way to reflect two people getting married; it’s an entirely different scenario than an intimate wedding. Looking for a wedding photographer in Melbourne? Look no further. Brighton Savoy has compiled an ultimate list of Melbourne wedding photographers to help you choose. 

Using “elopement” when you’re hosting an intimate wedding (i.e. more than just the two of you) can create a lot of confusion with planning and logistics. You want to be honest and transparent with your vendors on what kind of wedding you’re having so they can figure out the best way to support you and give you their absolute best product and service.

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